Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers Interview
Interview with Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
I had the great pleasure to interview the whole band, after their recent set in Sin City, Swansea as part of the brilliant Swansea Fringe Festival 2018.
Chris Stringer – Guitar, vocals
Alex Palmer – Drums
Andy McMillan – Bass
Teo Nametak – Keys
PD: Tell us about the early days of Chris Stringer & the Rocketeers.
CS: I started playing when I was 15 and in 2015 I did a tour where I played alongside Alex’s band (Mountain Song) and shortly afterwards Alex messaged me and said “I want to play drums for you.” and he said “I know a guy that plays bass.” So then my friends best friend, who is now your (Teo’s) girlfriend, we went to a local festival thing near me, Teo and I got chatting and he said he played keyboards. So then last year around March/April we all got together for a jam.
TN: We came down and we had a little practice before Palmer’s Green Festival.
PD: Who does the main songwriting for the band?
CS: All of the songs are songs that I’ve written, the majority of which are songs that I’ve had for a while previous to us. For example ‘Frontroom’, the song that we started with today, I wrote when I was 16. And I did an EP in 2007 called ‘The Front Room EP’.
AP: Did anyone tell you that you weren’t supposed to be writing songs that are that good at that age, you were supposed to be writing rubbish?
CS: It was literally a song about my girlfriend and I having a fight and I was sitting in my living room, I was on MSN Messenger and I sent my friend a demo of it. and as the album come out I just wrote in the section for album title ‘Front Room’, cos I was in my front room and he was like, “that’s a great name, you should call it that.” So that’s what it became.
And then we played 2 new songs tonight ‘Running The Red’, which I wrote recently and then ‘Stuck In The Fish Bowl’, which I’ve been writing for about 3 or 4 years.
PD: I can relate to ‘Stuck in The Fish Bowl’, having worked for the likes of British Gas and The AA.
CS: Yeah, I was working in retail and they sent me to Head Office to look at the new stuff that was coming out and I was like, orggghhh, I just felt I was stuck in a fish bowl. I wrote it down on my phone and I’ve had it in my notes ever since. There’s been little bits added here and there and literally yesterday, I sent you guys (the band) a little demo of it and sent the chords to Teo and Andy, and we put it together yesterday.
PD: Do you feel that your writing style has changed now that you are writing for a band rather than just yourself?
CS: Yes, particularly with ‘Running The Red’, because that one is probably the first one (well, probably ‘Fish Bowl’ as well) but that was the first one that we’d written as a band. I had the body of the song…
AP: It wasn’t called ‘Running The Red’ at first.
CS: No it wasn’t, it was called ‘Ghosts’ at first. Yeah, Alex made the astute observation that a lot of my songs have one word as the title. ‘Running The Red’ is a better name.
AM: Set lists are really easy to write that way.
AP: You don’t want your set list to be in landscape.
PD: It’s like with your name, I had to widen the columns on my spreadsheet to fit you in.
CS: We’ve just released a T-shirt, it’s like the AC/DC logo, it’s just CS/TR and that works.
But that was the first one that we kind of wrote and then Teo, Andy and Alex, they start the song and I don’t come in straight away, so that’s the first time we’ve done something like that.
AM: It works better like that; just with less of you (Chris).
CS: (laughs) Yeah sure yeah!
PD: You released ‘Stringer Things: Live in Manchester’ this year, what has the response been for that?
CS: Good, I mean as a small band – in stature perhaps as well as numbers – what we hear is good. We put it online for a £1, I mean there’s a couple of covers on there, so there’s rights and all that, but we’d like people just to have it. In fact the purchases that we’ve had have come through as more; on Bandcamp you have the option to pay more, some have paid a fiver for it, some have paid a tenner. Everything we’ve heard has been good. ‘Frontroom’ has been on radio a couple of times and there’s a cover of ‘Free Falling’ that was played on the radio the other week. Everything we’ve had back has been good.
PD: Are there any plans to release a follow up yet, anything in the pipeline?
CS: Yeah, we’ve been talking about getting in the studio to release something … proper…
AM: We were going to record an EP just before Palmers Green…
CS: Yes, we were going to record an EP at the beginning of September, but I quit my job, finally got out of retail…finally escaped the ‘fish bowl’! So hopefully it’s not out of the fish bowl, into the tank! But because I left we thought it’s not the right time, it’s not a cheap process.
PD: What would you say has been your proudest moment in music?
CS: Me personally, I got to support Nizlopi in 2013. I got to support them here in Swansea and they are like a big influence for me. So that was really cool and then later the singer from Nizlopi was playing down here and they called me and wanted me to support them, that was pretty cool.
Since we’ve got together as a full band, it sounds a bit lame, but the proudest thing for me it’s like how quickly we gel. Like yesterday with Fish Bowl.
AM: Did it 3 times and like …”that will do.”
CS: Yes, like the way it ends, Alex said “How about this for an idea, let’s give it a go” and we literally nailed it first time. That is a proud thing for me.
AM: Obviously we gel together and make good music.
AP: I think as well speaking as one of the 3 guys tasked to play music around your songs, we’ve got a sweet gig and a pretty easy one at that, because it’s such honest song writing, finding ways to tag around it is not a hard task.
AM: We just hide behind the pretty boy at the front!
CS: (laughs) I have to restrain my Tool influences as much as possible. Like, “this song, but for 9 minutes….”
AP: I would go full Danny Carey for you, the second you asked me to. Showing up at a small club gig with a 27 piece drum kit and still playing it with hot rods.
PD: Is there any song that you wish you’d written.
CS: I quite often say that KT Tunstall’s ‘Eye To The Telescope’, I quite frequently say that I wish I’d written that album. Because I think that it’s an excellent example of acoustic led, sort of pop song writing. Like she had that huge hit with ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’, ‘Suddenly I See’ was on a film and it became massive. She’s an insane song writer, she’s so good and I listen to that album and I’m like…”Wish I’d written that one …”
Don’t know if there’s any from you guys?
AP: ‘The Vengabus’. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when they wrote that one.
CS Yes ‘The Vengabus’ (starts to sing it…..honestly, I have it recorded)
PD: Everyone chooses ‘The Vengabus’…. not.
AP: A watershed moment in music!
PD: Who would you say is your music God?
CS: George Michael is one of my biggest influences vocally.
PD: A lot of people are saying George Michael.
CS: Again, an incredible song writer. People only see him as the pretty boy from Wham, which he was, but he wrote a lot of that stuff. The song ‘Jesus To A Child’, I defy anyone to listen to the lyrics and it’s so harrowing. He wrote it after his partner died and there’s a lyric in it “So the words that you cannot say, I’ll sing them for you.” and the first time that I actually heard that lyric, like, properly listened to it, I was washing the dishes and I was like…. urgggg, like, that’s just… urggg. For me I’d say George Michael.
PD: That whole album (‘Older’) I think is amazing. Especially the title track.
CS: Yeah, I fully love George and I miss him terribly.
AM: I used to play guitar a lot more, and still do play a little bit, my big influence was always John Mayer. Not a lot of people are huge fans of his, but I think he’s a great songwriter, a decent singer and a wonderful guitarist. He’s really inspiring… I don’t like all of his stuff, but the way he kinda changes genres…
CS: It’s like an honest side to it, like Colin Hay it has an honest sound to it…
AM: Never the best vocals, but he puts everything into it. And then bass wise, as Chris mentioned Nizlopi, John Parker the bass player and he is incredible. I’ve seen them play a few times and he’s the loveliest guy. I asked his advice on bass strings, he’s the reason I play double bass as well, ‘cos he’s such an imaginative bass player, he makes the singer/songwriter into a full band, as he beatboxes as well!
CS: Yeah I’m trying to get you doing that…
AP: As a drummer, there’s probably far too many names float into mind. The drummer whose work I really revisited before starting with Chris was a drummer called Mike Marsh. He was the drummer in a band called Dashboard Confessional and they write kind of earnest quite power felt pop rock. He’s an incredibly talented jazz drummer as well. So he has this really solid back-beat behind him and really supports and has that nice undertone behind everything. Also he puts in these little flourishes that put a little extra layer in here and there, behind them, and that’s very much what I wanted to bring in with Chris. And we want to try and get the shuffle from Rosanna (Toto) in somewhere…
TN: What inspired me, what got me here I guess was the Final Fantasy soundtracks, a guy called Nobuo Uematsu. He is very melodically orientated and I guess playing with Chris and it’s Chris’ songs, I’m like how can I accompany it, rather than take over it. It’s simple for me, as the melodies are amazing, so I’m like ‘how can I add to this?’
CS: It’s one of the things I say about the way that you play, like the piece you play for ‘Sinking Ships’, that’s the one that really like for me, you said “I’ve got something for this” and it was that kind of…. I don’t know, it was just like a little pathway through it. It’s like something quite classical. You playing that on its own is amazing.
AP: Like when we were first started talking about putting keys in the song, obviously before Teo came one board, I listened to it and thought “I can hear exactly how the keys are going to go”. Then Teo came in and everything he came out with was so far away from what I was picturing and it was so much better off for it.
CS: Yes, I think so too.
AP: What I was thinking was a very basic kind of like, roots of what we were already doing, but instead we got these like bonus tracks just appearing.
PD: Like you said, it’s great that you are all gelling easily, you’re all bringing something to it. And it’s working.
CS: Yeah, in fact one of the guys from this band (News From Nowhere were on stage) said as we were coming off, the way you guys play together, nobody plays too much, nobody plays too little. Like with you (Teo), you’re very talented, you play accents and stuff and I think that’s it. It’s just working out how to…
AP: I think it’s a refreshing maturity to be in a band with people who are all talented, but don’t need the audience to know how talented they are and everyone is focussed on serving the song.
TN: I think the most part for me is, I really like how you guys play individually and sometimes I just won’t do anything…. and watch.
All: (laughs) stand at the side of the stage and watch us.
CS: Sometimes you just drop out. I’m going to teach you all the words, so that I can do that.
PD: But then if you did stop they would notice.
CS: We do notice, we’re like….”Where’s Teo gone?….I miss him!…come back!”
PD: How is 2019 looking for you?
CS: If we can we’ll try and record this side of the new year. I’ve kind of got it outlined in my notes on my phone. There’s 2 possible things that could be released, kind of like an accompaniment. One of my other favourite bands, Deftones, there’s quite a broad range of stuff I like. Deftones singer, Chino’s side project Crosses, they released 2 or 3 EPs and then an album which is basically just those songs again, but in a different order with a couple of extras. I’m not saying I want to do that exactly but like I like the idea of having….
AP: … Having like a part one and a part two.
CS: Yeah, like having a couple of different things and then eventually when it comes to it, having like a full album…
TN: Like a ‘Deluxe Edition’!
AM: I think the big thing is just playing more, gigging more. Like we’ve got like 2 venues in mind in Manchester that we really want to play.
CS: Yeah, it’s tough, because Teo and I live in London, literally the opposite ends of London. And then you guys live up in Manchester.
AM: It’s always a bit of a trek. After this we’ll get a bit of lunch then we’ve got a 6 hour drive to Manchester.
CS: Yeah, it’s always like, we’ve got a gig, come down the day before to practice. When we played the Air Show here in June, we practiced in the morning and went to do the gig right after.
TN: It was alright though?
AP:I was happy with it!
AM: More of that, more of the playing.
PD: Have you got a message for anyone reading this interview?
CS: Come to the next one! Swansea Fringe is brilliant, and it should definitely have more people. I don’t think it’s a fault on any one’s part. Swansea is a tough place to bring people out. Especially on a Sunday afternoon.
AP: In any city – just support your local scene, just support small bands.
Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers links:
Band location – Swansea Wales, London Manchester England
Check out our page for Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers
Learn more about Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers on their Facebook page
Watch the latest Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers videos on You Tube
Listen to and buy Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers music on Bandcamp
Follow Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers on their Twitter page
Follow Chris Stringer and the Rocketeers on their Instagram page